I was in a local lawn and garden store last weekend getting plants for a landscaping project. As I stood in line person after person was plucking down a considerable amount of money for tomato and pepper plants, hanging baskets, potting soil, mulch, etc. gardening can become a sizeable investment depending on what your intent is!

One way to get better returns on what you’ve spent is to make sure soil is properly prepared before you put your plants in it. Ideally you’ve soil tested your garden plot, tilled it deeply, incorporating compost, leaf mold or other soil amendments to assure looser, better draining soil. You’re planting when soil is the right consistency. Plants are coaxed out of pots gently so as not to damage the root system. You’re planting at the right depth for the plant and the right distance apart, firming soil down around the plant so that roots have thorough contact with the soil. You’re writing down in your gardener’s diary (yes, some of us do keep diaries!) or planting the information marker that come with your plants alongside so you’ll remember what varieties you’ve planted, etc. A continuing release or general purpose fertilizer has been incorporated as well. And you’ll water in well to eliminate air pockets and get transplants off to a good start. Since our area seems to be in a bit of a dry spell right now, it’s a good idea to check soil around the young plants in a day or so in case supplemental watering has to be done. Allowing plants to stress and droop even once will already compromise the quality and quantity of production you can expect from them.

Yes, the weeding vigil begins. Don’t give weeds a chance to steal valuable nutrients from your plants. It’s easier to pull weeds early on and when the soil is moist.

Mulch is made naturally every year by dead leaves, twigs and plants that fall to the ground and decompose there. Gardeners who use mulch do not have as much weeding to do and find that a layer of mulch around their plants helps to conserve soil moisture. It may also help prevent the spread of various soil-borne diseases to fruit and foliage. Organic mulches decompose slowly and are incorporated into the soil, making it looser, more friable, enriched in nutrients and provide an ideal environment for earthworms and beneficial micro-organisms. Good mulch choices include decomposed hay, dried grass clippings, composted or shredded leaves, manure mixed with straw or peat moss mixed with sawdust. Spread a thick layer of mulch among plants and between rows. Refresh with additional amounts as mulch breaks down. Sprinkle mulch with nitrogenous fertilizer to hasten decomposition.

Get outdoors and get growing!